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In the reign of the caliph Mustunsir Billah, that is, seeking victory of God, a prince so famous for his liberality towards the poor, ten highwaymen infested the roads about Bagdad, and for a long time committed unheard-of robberies and cruelties. The caliph, having notice of this, sent for the judge of the police, some days before the feast of Bairam, and ordered him, on pain of death, to bring all the ten to him.
The judge of the police used so much diligence, and sent so many people in pursuit of the ten robbers, that they were taken on the very day of Bairam. I was walking at the time on the banks of the Tigris, and saw ten men richly appareled go into a boat. Had I but observed the guards who had them in custody, I might have concluded they were robbers; but my attention was fixed on the men themselves, and thinking they were people who designed to spend the festival in jollity, I entered the boat with them, hoping they would not object to my making one of the company. We descended the Tigris, and landed before the caliph's palace: I had by this time had leisure to reflect, and to discover my mistake. When we quitted the boat, we were surrounded by a new troop of the judge of the police's guard, who bound us all, and carried us before the caliph. I suffered myself to be bound as well as the rest, without speaking one word: for what would it have availed to have spoken, or made any resistance? That had been the way to have got myself ill-treated by the guards, who would not have listened to me, for they are brutish fellows, who will hear no reason: I was with the robbers, and that was enough to make them believe me to be one of their number.
When we had been brought before the caliph, he ordered the ten highwaymen's heads to be cut off immediately. The executioner drew us up in a file within reach of his arm, and by good fortune I was placed last. He cut off the heads of the ten highwaymen, beginning at the first; and when he came to me, he stopped. The caliph perceiving that he did not strike me, grew angry: "Did not I command thee," said he, "to cut off the heads of ten highwaymen, and why hast thou cut off but nine?" "Commander of the faithful," he replied, "Heaven preserve me from disobeying your majesty's orders: here are ten bodies upon the ground, and as many heads which I have cut off; your majesty may count them." When the caliph saw that what the executioner said was true, he looked at me with amazement, and perceiving that I had not the face of a highwayman, said to me, "Good old man, how came you to be among those wretches, who have deserved a thousand deaths?" I answered, "Commander of the faithful, I will make a true confession. This morning I saw those ten persons, whose punishment is a proof of your majesty's justice, take boat: I embarked with them, thinking they were men going to celebrate this day, which is the most distinguished in our religion." The caliph could not forbear laughing at my adventure; and instead of treating me as a prattling fellow, as this lame young man did, he admired my discretion and taciturnity. "Commander of the faithful," I resumed, "your majesty need not wonder at my silence on such an occasion, as would have made another apt to speak. I make a particular profession of holding my peace, and on that account have acquired the glorious title of Silent; by which I am distinguished from my six brothers. This is the effect of my philosophy; and, in a word, in this virtue consists my glory and happiness." "I am glad," said the caliph, smiling, "that they gave you a title which you know so well how to use. But tell me what sort of men were your brothers, were they like you?" "By no means," I replied; "they were all of them loquacious, prating fellows. And as to their persons, there was still a greater difference betwixt them and me. The first was hump-backed; the second had rotten teeth; the third had but one eye; the fourth was blind; the fifth had his ears cut off; and the sixth had hare-lips. They had met with such adventures as would enable you to judge of their characters, had I the honour of relating them to your majesty:" and the caliph seemed desirous to hear their several stories, I went on without waiting his commands.
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Scott, Jonathan (1754-1829). The Arabian Nights Entertainments. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1890. 4 Volumes. Project Gutenberg.
1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM